Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Annotated Bibliography #3: What is Digital History?

What is Digital History?

Thomas, William G. “What is Digital Scholarship? A Typology.”
William G. Thomas III (blog). February 28, 2015,

In this post, Thomas provides categorization for digital scholarship. In categorizing such scholarship, Thomas hopes to promote discussion regarding digital scholarship reviews. According to Thomas, digital scholarship falls into one of three categories: interactive scholarly works (ISWs), digital projects or thematic research collections (TRCs), and digital narratives.  ISWs are “hybrids of archival materials and tool components” that provide a methodological argument based on a “historiographical concern.” TRCs combine tools and archival material “framed around a historiographically significant” problem and contain primary sources based on a specific historical them/research question. Digital Narratives are “born digital” works of scholarship that contain arguments “embedded within layers of evidence and citation.” Digital narratives differ from traditional ebooks in that they are nonlinear and contain “hypertextual structures.”

Thomas, William G. and Douglass Seefeldt. “What is Digital History.” Perspectives on History. May 2009.

In this article, Thomas and Seefeldt look at three areas of digital history. First, as they consider “What is Digital History?” they suggest that it differs from traditional scholarly practice in the ways that it “might be understood broadly as an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the internet network, and software systems” (Thomas and Seefeldt). After defining digital history, the authors look at the next stages of digital history and then the future of digital history. Considering the future of history, while the authors acknowledge that digital tools might challenge the traditional methods of historians, scholars should embrace new methods available through the use of digital technology.

Cohen, Daniel J., et al. "Interchange: The Promise of Digital History." The Journal of American History, Vol. 5, No. 2., 2008: 452-491.

In this article, authors Cohen, Frisch, Gallagher, Mintz, Sword, Taylor, Thomas, and Turkel discuss the promises of digital history. Written as a transcription of an interview, this article as a whole various methodologies, technologies (such as Zotero), the bridge between traditional and digital history, the institutional resources needed to develop the field of digital history, open access, research, and more. Looking at the first part of the article specifically, the JAH defines digital history as “as anything (research method, journal article, monograph, blog, classroom exercise) that uses digital technologies in creating, enhancing, or distributing historical research and scholarship” (453). In discussing the origin of the term, Thomas notes that himself and Ayers were likely the first to use the term in their essays about The Valley of the Shadow project. For a specific definition, Thomas shares that digital history is both “an open arena of scholarly production” and “a methodological approach” using new technologies to form new research questions about the past (454). Looking at the promise of digital sources, Turkel notes that such sources can be easily created, altered, duplicated, transmitted, stored, separated, and more (454). Joining the conversation, Cohen highlights the abundance of sources as a result of digital technology. From Mintz’ perspective, digital history has developed through a number of stages; Mintz argues that the world is currently experiencing stage 3, which is based on active learning and collaboration through wikis, social media, and more.

Cohen, Daniel J. and Roy Rosenzweig. “Promises and Perils of Digital Technology.” A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

In this chapter, the authors argue that there are both pros and cons to using digital technology in digital humanities. Considering the pros, the authors argue that digital technology offers great opportunities. First, digital technology provides more storage capacity than ever before. Second, digital technology is more accessible as it can easily make sources available to the public. Third, digital technology is flexible in that as a medium, it allows scholarship to take a variety of forms including texts, pictures, sounds, etc. Fourth, digital technology supports diversity as it engages with a number of authors, people of different ethnicity, gender, etc. Fifth, digital technology provides manipulability as it allows individuals to research strategically (like word searches on JSTOR). Sixth, digital history provides interactivity as it allows communication between students, teachers, parents, and more. Seventh, digital history has an element of non-linearity in the way that digital history allows individuals to look at history in new ways both narratively and spatially. In addition to the promises of digital history, the authors list several problems with the field. First, there is the issue of quality as often times the internet provides links to inadequate sources. Second there is the issue of durability as digitized items can become out of date and be unable to function with current technology. Third, there is the issue of readability as it is sometimes difficult to identify a thesis within digital history projects. Fourth, there is the issue of passivity as a result of interactivity given that often times such interactivity comes in the form of yes or no decisions, keeping the user from thinking critically and processing the scholarship. Fifth, there is the issue of inaccessibility given that 2/3rds of the world does not have access to the internet.

Ayers, Edward L. “The Past and Futures of Digital History.” University of Virginia, 1999.

In this essay, Ayers discusses the both the history and the future of the field of Digital History. Ayers explains that while society as a whole as embraced digital technology, it is “unusual for a historian to pursue the full implications and possibilities of the new technology” (Ayers). In discussing the future of the field, Ayers explains that history, ironically, might be better suited for the use of digital technology than other fields in the humanities. For example, Ayers argues that in the field of history, writing has never been better, computers are growing professional communication, publishing is now available online, and the community is experimenting with technology like digital archives, and more. Furthermore, he suggests that due to developments in technology, hypertext, hypermedia, and an interest in social science might unite. He concludes by saying, “Only historians can decide whether history will participate in the intoxicating possibilities of a true hypertextual history, of a reconstituted social science history, of an entirely new kind of immersive history. Only we can decide if we want to make use of any of the tools that are being created for purposes far from our own current practice” (Ayers).

What is Spatial History?

White, Richard. “What is Spatial History?” Spatial History Lab. February 1, 2010.

In his article, Richard White first explains how Stanford’s Spatial History Project operates outside of normal historical practice being that it is collaborative, uses visualizations, depends on computers, is open ended, and contains a conceptual focus on space. Then, after sharing Lefebvre’s idea that humans produce space over time, White discusses Lefebvre’s triad of spatial practice, representations of space, and representational spaces. Spatial practice “involves the segregation of certain kinds of constructed spaces and their linkages through human movement” (2). Representations of space are the “documents of city planners, politician,” etc. (2). Finally, representational spaces are “space as lived and experienced through a set of symbolic associations” (3). Yet, according to Richard White, the most important aspect of spatial history is movement, being that “Spatial relations are established through the movement of people, plants, animals, goods, and information” (3). While White acknowledges that maps are important to spatial history, maps are static while movement is “dynamic” (3). Thus, spatial historians must embrace the use of new technologies like ArcGIS that help to visualize movement and allow scholars to better study physical space (inches, feet, miles, etc.) and relational space (the time it takes to travel between locations, the cost of travel, etc.). Most importantly, White argues that spatial history is more than simple visualization, rather, “it is a means of doing research” to generate new questions (6).

Thomas, William G. “Is the Future of Digital History Spatial History?” Newberry Library Historical GIS Conference, March 2004.

Analyzing the future of digital history in relation to spatial history, Thomas first shares the thoughts of Janet Murray, a leading critic of new media and narrative. According to Murray, the four keys to a successful narrative online are based in the fact that “work must be participatory, procedural, encyclopedic, and spatial” (1) Then, after looking at the spatial history projects like Paul Carter's The Road to Botany Bay: An Exploration of Landscape and History, Thomas shares that according to Carter, spatial history “advances exploratively, even metaphorically, recognizing that the future is invented” (3). Overall, Thomas argues that spatial history purposes to “recover contingency in its description of the past,” deconstruct the hegemony of linear narrative, present multiple perspectives, reject the positivism of empirical methodologies, and more (5). Perhaps most powerfully, Thomas notes that spatial history purposes to “spatialize history,” not “historicize space” (5).

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